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This review is from: Gobbledygook: How Cliches, Sludge and Management-speak are Strangling Our Public Language (Paperback)
This is a rant. An Australian rant. (I take it 'The International Bestseller' means on sale in three continents.) A sustained, miserabilist rant. A querulous, Procrustean jeremiad. The first half's purely linguistic; but jargon and bureaucratese have been around since the Sumerians, probably, so a little thing like a mission statement shouldn't get us hot under the collar, and Ernest Gowers said it all much better in 1948. If that's your bag, that is (am I allowed to say that, Don, if you're allowed berley?). He's more amusing on Hawke and Howard (Aussie prime ministers, guys) but *of course* politicians finagle - goes with the job, no? - and expecting Howard to match up to Burke, say, is a bit rich; though the reference to Viktor Klemperer's memoirs (p71) is bien trouvé. But Watson must see that policians, organisations, TV commentators resort to verbiage ('sludge') for finely calculated reasons - to buy time, to obfuscate, to avoid thought, to sound precise without commitment - and they're not going to change that because of something Lincoln said at Gettysburg.
We first move beyond mere indignation on p65 when Watson asks 'why someone who aspires to the élite is admirable, while members of the élite are despised' and then riffs on 'aspirationals' ('the 1920s was an era of aspirationals and look what happened', but 'politicians can't get elected without them'); but who knew an Aussie could sound so like a chuntering Cheltenham colonel? (He thinks we'd be happier if our bank managers referred to swords of Damocles.) He objects to the (admittedly scary) term 'resile' (a new one on me) though it's been around since the 16th century, and as for his war on cliché (man is a tool- and cliché-wielding animal, after all) or expecting Hilary Clinton to speak in a way other than, well, the way she speaks... how can he be so sure she doesn't think like that?
The man's obviously a politician in a party of one (rather right-leaning too* - well, aren't all men, come to think of it?) but the real trouble is that he thinks his prose soars. Alas, his prose soareth not, neither doth it sparkle (or only intermittently, as itemised above) but, hey, bile always sells! As for Damocles' sword, its pendulum-like swing from learned ornament to hackneyed shorthand or comical cliché (à la 'dulcet tones') and back again (at what point in the spectrum is, for instance, 'with gay abandon'?) points to a simple truth: language does not stand still
*OK, so he wrote speeches for the Other Side. All men (above a certain age) are right-leaners who think they're liberal. Women probably really are liberals - but are more inclined to vote right. Go figure. I put it down to the nurturing gene. I was right-wing when the children were young and I needed to safeguard my sufficiency for their sake; perhaps in women after childbirth this tendency is ingrained, or perhaps the woolier liberal laissez-faire kind of woman is simply less inclined to vote ('a plague on both their houses'). What larks - shame the speechifying couldn't save your client's bacon in the end, cobber
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